Balancing childcare while working from home has become a necessity for many of us during these days of COVID-19.
Schools and daycare centers are closed and we must stay quarantined from most of the beloved childcare providers that have helped us in the past (including nannies, babysitters, and family members). Now you’re expected to be a parent, a good employee, and a teacher all at the same time.
If you’re lucky, you have a partner or someone else co-isolating who can help you out.
Whatever your situation, it’s likely a challenging time.
Our team here at Big Interview is entirely remote. We are a virtual team from all walks of life. Some members of our team have children and–while they are used to working from home–the need to provide 24-hour childcare around their full-time work schedules has been an adjustment.
Though the internet is full of working from home advice, we did want to put together some thoughts on balancing childcare while working from home that we hope will be helpful for you.
But before we begin, we want to talk about one very important thing:
We’re in an unprecedented time right now. Focus, morale, and stress levels are all going to be topsy-turvy. And guess what? That’s okay!
One of the byproducts of our work culture is to think of ourselves as machines that can go and go and go and not be affected by environment and circumstances. But we are in fact human beings who will be affected when our lives suddenly shift in such a drastic way.
The bottom line is you are not just working from home. You are living at home during a crisis and trying to work. Be gentle with yourself and don’t expect perfection. You can’t reasonably expect yourself to become a professional child educator or behaviorist overnight.
Childcare and education is a full-time job, and you’re already doing a full-time job. So extend some self-compassion to yourself, understanding that this is an odd and difficult time and you are doing the best you can.
Now for the nitty-gritty.
Create a Flexible Schedule
Setting a schedule is usually one of the first things people say you should do for both working from home and homeschooling children.
And there are very good reasons for this. Structure can help you feel more in control of your day, and can make it easier to fit everything in.
However, life happens. Especially when you’re dealing with children, the unexpected is bound to happen at the most inconvenient time.
The key is to create a realistic and sustainable schedule that allows for flexibility when the day goes off-kilter.
Scheduling is another area to practice self-compassion in!
Don’t sweat it if you aren’t able to keep to a strict schedule perfectly every day.
But designing a flexible structure for you and your child can save you a lot of sanity.
Predictability is very important to a child’s sense of safety. For instance, if they know that lunchtime or snack time happens roughly the same time every day, they can know that their needs will be met and can wait.
If these daily rituals happen erratically, however, they may not feel they can trust that their needs will be met and start acting out as a result.
Structure is also critical for efficient work. Think about how and when you can schedule blocks of time when you can truly focus on work. Maybe that means coordinating with a partner or roommate. Maybe it means scheduling TV time or video game time to keep the kiddos occupied. You may have to sacrifice your usual screen-time rules just to keep all the balls in the air right now.
Scheduled screen-time can also incentivize kids to get through their homework and other activities with less nagging.
OK, so structure can be helpful, but HOW should you approach structuring your day at home?
Alternate Daily Activities
One best practice is to alternate physical, energy-releasing activities with structured learning activities and downtime.
Studies have shown that there is a significant link between movement and learning. Exercise floods the brain with oxygen and nutrient-rich chemicals that promote connections between neurons.
So not only is exercise good for your child’s focus, but it gives them a boost in learning and retaining information overall.
The general consensus of most childhood development experts is that children can focus on a task for 2-3 minutes per year of their age.
So the age/focus breakdown looks like this:
- 2 years old: 4 to 6 minutes
- 4 years old: 8 to 12 minutes
- 6 years old: 12 to 18 minutes
- 8 years old: 16 to 24 minutes
- 10 years old: 20 to 30 minutes
- 12 years old: 24 to 36 minutes
- 14 years old: 28 to 42 minutes
- 16 years old: 32 to 48 minutes
Of course, a child’s ability to focus will also be affected by how calm or chaotic their environment is, if they are feeling physical discomfort such as hunger or fatigue, if there are distractions nearby, and how much interest they have in the activity they need to focus on.
It can be a great idea to begin the day with a walk or a “wiggle party” to release excess energy before having them sit down to begin schoolwork or other quiet activities.
Here are a few ideas to help extend your child’s window of focus:
Give Them Some Autonomy
Especially with older children, giving them some choice and say in how they spend their time will greatly increase their interest and cooperation in a schedule. No one likes to be told what to do, but being given responsibility and choice can make a big difference.
For older children, you can try making the schedule together, incorporating things they like to do throughout the day. For younger children, you can include a block of “free choice” time where they can choose from a variety of quiet activities.
Make It Creative
If a child has to complete a task they don’t enjoy, try making it creative. Have them solve a math problem with blocks or stickers, or learn a history lesson by writing a simple script and acting out a short play. The opportunity to be more creative will make the dreaded task seem fun and will help keep them focused.
If scheduling blocks of time doesn’t work well for your family, try focusing on a task instead. For instance, say, “You fill out your worksheet while dad/mom answers this email and then we’ll have a juice and coffee break.” This will let the child know an end is in sight and they’re not staring down the barrel of hours of boredom and uninteresting tasks.
Split It Up
A homework assignment that will take 40 minutes can be split up into two 20-minute chunks. This will be good for both you and your child.
Excessive focus exhausts the brain and actually impairs our ability to focus, exert self-control, and collaborate.
Built-in breaks are essential to health and productivity for both children and adults (remember how we’re not machines?). So look at these break times as a new way of conducting business and not as a million little interruptions.
Make Room For Feelings
It’s easy to judge our days as successes or failures by the amount of work that’s getting done, but the social and emotional toll on you and your child/children is also very real and very important to make space for.
Most of us have gone through a host of emotions the past several weeks that have been difficult to contend with. Your child/children’s lives have also drastically changed.
While adults have usually learned how to internalize their feelings (which is not always a good thing!), children have a harder time not displaying what they’re feeling.
Worry, sadness, and stress over their changing world and routines may show up in a variety of ways.
|Sadness and Overwhelm May Manifest As:|
Yelling At/Hitting Siblings
Losing Patience Easily
Persistent Bad Mood
Refusal to Exercise
No Interest in Outdoors
Not Wanting to Get Out of Bed
|Numbing Out||Begging For More Screen Time
Only Calm in Front of TV
Complaints of Boredom
|Displaced Frustration||Argiung Over Meals/What to Wear
Refusal to Comply With Requests
Throwing/Breaking Toysor Objects
It’s easy to just get frustrated with these behaviors and start lashing out yourself–especially if you’re trying to manage deadlines and emails and meetings and all of your other responsibilities as a working adult.
Your problems may be bigger than your child’s, but their feelings are just as valid. Make time for a daily check-in, maybe over lunch or snack time where you simply ask how they’re feeling, if they’re having a hard time, and if you can help them. And be honest about your feelings too — to the extent that makes sense for your child’s age level.
Tell them you’re frustrated and mad at this stupid virus too! Let them know it’s okay to talk about what’s bugging them.
This is a very important moment to demonstrate to your children how to handle difficult feelings. If you allow your frustration to get the better of you, you miss the opportunity to give a lifelong lesson in the importance of acknowledging and honoring big emotions.
If your child has room to express and be put at ease about their feelings every day, the frequency of negative behaviors resulting from those feelings will diminish.
You may be dealing with some extra challenges that make a lot of the things we’ve talked about above seem impossible.
Maybe you don’t have enough devices in your home to accommodate working from home and online coursework for your children, making scheduling particularly difficult.
Maybe you have three kids with three different online school schedules.
Perhaps you are a single parent and don’t have any help with childcare, or your child has no siblings and relies on you for their sole source of distraction and entertainment.
It’s true it can seem like a lot to put so much intentionality into structuring your child’s day when you’re just trying to survive from day to day and keep food on the table.
But remember, any effort you put into helping your child get through their day now is work time you get later. Taking the extra step to listen to their anxieties or make sure their schoolwork is getting done may feel frustrating in the moment, but the payoff in their calm and quiet behavior will equal increased productivity for you later.
One of the major silver linings of the time we find ourselves in is many people are banding together and trying to help.
There are a myriad of online educational and entertainment options available. Many are free or available at discounts because of COVID-19.
Additionally, some companies and school districts are providing or donating laptops to students who need a device for e-learning. Research what is available in your area if you are experiencing a shortage of tech devices in your home.
And lastly, remember it’s okay for your child to be bored sometimes. You don’t have to be providing learning or education during their every waking moment.
Studies have shown that boredom sparks creativity and is overall good for our mental health. No one ever dies of boredom and your children won’t either. No doubt there are plenty of chores that need to be done around the house, so if complaints of boredom persist, there’s always the good old fashioned chore chart!
We began this post by encouraging you to have some self-compassion, and we’re going to end it the same way.
Don’t beat yourself up. You’re doing all you can. You may have the misfortune of working for a boss that isn’t sympathetic to the challenges of balancing childcare while working from home, but if you can, release yourself from any guilt you may feel. We’re all in this together and taking it a day at a time.
Have a basic, flexible schedule that includes physical release activities and break times and make time to talk to your children about their feelings.
If you’re able, savor these moments you have with your children. The virus will not last forever. There will come a time when you are once again at the office all day while they are at school and activities and you only see each other on evenings and weekends. Looking back, you may wish you could build more of the time you have now into your life.
We have more thoughts on self-care and career development in our post How to Use Your Time Off For Professional Development if you would like to read more.
We hope some of this information is helpful. Stay healthy and stay safe!